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Beausejour Stadium, Gros Islet, St Lucia

Beausejour - a brief history

By Will Luke

Beausejour is the West Indies' eighth Test venue, and arguably the Caribbean's most spectacular. Situated in the drier north-end of the island, not far from Pigeon Island and benefiting from a sea breeze, it currently holds 12,000 people but additional, temporary seating will be in place for the World Cup increasing the capacity to 21,000. And although still new to the international scene, it has nevertheless hosted some intriguing contests in its four-year history and has had other Caribbean grounds scrambling to emulate the ultra-modern facilities.

An artist's impression of the redeveloped ground © WICB
A short but intriguing history
The new ground, built on a former cattle pasture, was inaugurated in 2002 for New Zealand's tour, in the second ODI. Stephen Fleming (89) and Scott Styris (85) led New Zealand to 248 after the tourists had made a faltering start, succumbing to Merv Dillon and Pedro Collins. And though Shivnarine Chanderpaul anchored West Indies' reply, they stumbled in their chase leaving much to be done by the 50th over before Brian Lara hit the winning runs with five balls to spare. It was an exciting game, and a terrific international birth for Beausejour.

Its inaugural Test match, the opening Test of West Indies' series against Sri Lanka in 2003, was a rather damp squib. Staging a series so late in the Caribbean summer, it was inevitable that the rain would impact greatly; the Reverend Wes Hall compared it to playing cricket in an English winter. No matter, though; between the frequent rain breaks, the stadium was treated to one of Lara's magnificent hundreds and an equally serene effort from Marvan Attapattu.

Solid though Sri Lanka were in their first innings, their rather stodgy progress was hardly likely to excite any newcomers to Test cricket. The sparse crowd were rewarded for their patience, however, with Lara and Wavell Hinds belting the Sri Lankans for a brisk third-wicket stand of 174. Hinds fell during the third morning after a misjudgement from his captain and, soon after, Ramnaresh Sarwan sparked a furious on-pitch argument when he was wrongly adjudged caught off a bump ball. Lara was Lara, though; he had hoped to bring up his 21st century on the fourth day, marking to the day 75 years since West Indies' first Test. Such were the inclement conditions that the ground became waterlogged, and he and his fans had to wait until the final morning. He eventually fell for 209.

Beausejour under lights © The Nation
Bangladesh were the next side afforded the luxury of playing in St Lucia, in June 2004 and, again, the pitch was made for the batsmen. The visitors rattled up an impressive 416, which stood as their highest team total until they surpassed it the following year, thanks to hundreds from Habibul Bashar and Mohammad Rafique, batting at No. 9. The inevitable wet weather (St Lucia in May receives almost twice as much rain as Manchester in December) meant only 41.1 overs were bowled on the second day and 62.4 on the fourth, but this time Bangladesh didn't need the weather to earn the draw. Even fielding of alarming ill discipline - Wisden wrote "chance after embarrassingly easy chance was put down" - didn't stop them gaining a 64-run lead, and threatening, at long last, to beat a top-flight side. They didn't, but it didn't matter. Bangladesh had shown promise and class. An honourable draw was as good as a triumph.

After Australia sneaked a 25-run win in a one-dayer in 2003, England were the next one-day visitors to St Lucia and Beausejour. After a blistering start, where Marcus Trescothick clobbered a hundred and Andrew Flintoff punched an aggressive 69, they ought to have realistically reached 300. Nevertheless, the required total of 282 for West Indies was challenging enough and, when Steve Harmison had Lara caught behind, West Indies were 191 for 4 with only 13 overs remaining. Enter Sarwan and 21-year-old Dwayne Smith. Smith went berserk, smashing Harmison and James Anderson for four sixes in his 28-ball 44, as West Indies plundered 85 exhilarating runs in just seven overs, to snatch a famous - and unlikely - victory.

Leading the way for West Indies stadiums, more recently the ground became the first in the Caribbean to host a floodlit match between West Indies A and England A. And in May 2006, Zimbabwe became the first international side to play a one-day international under lights in the Caribbean which, inevitably, West Indies won convincingly. Such was the margin of victory that Martin Williamson, Managing Editor of Cricinfo, commented that "the landmark match, and a crowd that grew as the sunlight dimmed, deserved far more than what was a contest in name only".

Although primarily used for internationals, touring teams from England are increasingly looking to St Lucia as a venue. One such side, Claygate from Surrey, set-up a two-week seven-game tour in February 2006 - and were even afforded the privilege of playing at Beausejour itself.

To the future
Beausejour will host Group C matches between New Zealand, England, Kenya and Canada as well as one of the semi-finals in the 2007 World Cup. The first of the preliminary matches, between Kenya and Canada, is on March 14. But before the World Cup frenzy begins, the West Indies host India and Beausejour is the venue for the second Test on June 10.

Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo